As we wrap up 2015 and I look back at the many books I read, I thought I would share my favorites by category instead of one big list. Today I’m sharing with you my favorite non-fiction reads. (Note: these are books I read in 2015, but not necessarily published in 2015.) Enjoy!
The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler
In the nearly 13 years I’ve been a parent, I’ve read what feels like an avalanche of parenting books. This may be my favorite of all time. It’s helpful, hopeful, the opposite of condescending, practical and (most importantly) a thoroughly enjoyable read. I loved it that much and I’m seeing a positive shift in my family’s life after reading it and putting some of Feiler’s observations about happy families into practice, such as family meetings, family dinners, and fighting fair.
Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin
I love Gretchen Rubin’s writing and topics of research, having already devoured The Happiness Project and Happier at Home. In her latest book, Rubin turns her focus towards habits. How do we form them, and why are they so hard to keep? Why is it easier for some people to incorporate good habits into their lives while so many struggle? This book was truly eye-opening for me, and I’m not being overly dramatic when I tell you it’s changed my life. Rubin helps readers determine which of the Four Tendencies they are, which lays the foundation for learning how you should best incorporate new habits into your life and the strategies you should use in order to have a higher likelihood of keeping those habits. She also conveys why habits are so important in our lives, and how having a foundation of good habits opens up your life to bigger and better things. After all, when you free your mind from having to decide over and over again to do something, you have the time and the energy to be better than you were before.
Even though this book wasn’t at all what I expected, nor was it the smoothest read, it’s had an impact on my daily life from the moment I picked it up. For that reason I’m picking it as one of the best non-fiction reads this year, even if it wasn’t the most enjoyable book. Marie Kondo is a very popular Japanese cleaning consultant (there’s a 3 month wait for her services). In her book, she details the exact way you should go about decluttering and tidying your home. She suggests that you go category-by-category instead of room by room. For example, you would organize all your clothing at once, instead of doing your bedroom, then the kitchen, then the coat closet. There is information in the book that is truly helpful and possibly transformational, such as the order you should tidy in, and how to arrange things in drawers (Check out KonMari folding on YouTube and prepared to be equally awed and worried). It’s a very short and easy read, and if you’re at all interested in decluttering and tidying your home, this book could be helpful and will definitely be different from anything else you’ve ever read on the subject.
A couple of years ago, Brené Brown’s book about the courage to be vulnerable and the damage shame can produce in our lives was everywhere. It didn’t seem like a book I’d really want to read, but it was one of those that kept popping up in unexpected places, with people raving about how it had changed their lives. I was skeptical, but open-minded.
It turned out that I really, really liked this book. In fact, I plan to buy a hard copy (which I rarely do), as there were so many parts that I bookmarked in the audio version and want to revisit. You think you know what it means to be vulnerable, but we have been molded to see it negatively, and instead to fit ourselves into personal armor. Did you ever think about the difference between guilt and shame? I didn’t, but Brown’s explanation of how they are two very different things was a lightbulb moment for me, and has changed the way I think about them entirely. And the concept of “minding the gap” – bridging the distance between practiced values (what we actually do, think and feel) and our aspirational values (what we want to do, think and feel) – is my new life/parenting mantra. Brown talks about how our feelings of shame and our fear of vulnerability have shaped our experiences in school, the workplace, our marriages and our parenting. It was incredibly eye-opening, and has stayed with me long after. I play to read her follow-up, Rising Strong, in 2016
Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
I adore Roz Chast’s cartoons for the New Yorker. In this memoir of dealing with her aging parents, she uses her craft to illustrate a story that is both hilarious and heart-breaking. As an only child raised by parents in New York City, Roz faces many challenges as her parents become increasingly unable to live on their own without danger to themselves or others. An unhappy childhood left Roz ambivalent about her feelings and responsibilities, and as she takes us on the journey of her parents’ decline we realize how frustrating and confusing the world of elder care is. It’s all of this, and yet I found myself laughing out loud page after page … and then crying a few pages later. Pretty impressive for a book of cartoons.
Little Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living by Jason Gay
Disclosure: I received this as an Advanced Reader Copy through NetGalley. I’d never read Jason Gay‘s column in the Wall Street Journal (which is surprising, given how much I like to read about sports), but that changed the instant I finished the book. It’s a book I’ll recommend to anyone who is looking for well-written essays on life that will make you smile, pump your fist in agreement, and laugh out loud (the real kind of LOL, not the ironic kind). I never highlight passages in my Kindle, but I found myself highlighting funny snippets and little gems right and left. I have a feeling lots of other readers will feel the same way.
Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
Imagine that one moment you are enjoying a holiday in a beautiful seaside setting with your family. The next moment you are running for your lives to escape a tsunami you never saw coming. One moment you have parents, a husband, and two small children. The next moment, they’re all gone. This book gutted me, and it’s the most powerful and raw story I’ve ever read on loss and grief. Between the shock and horror of Sonali Deraniyagala’s story of being the lone survivor in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the reader is also given tender glimpses into Sonali’s family: her doting parents, her goofy husband, and her vibrant, energetic boys. Deraniyagala is everything: heartbroken, furious, funny, bitter, painfully honest and ultimately hopeful. I sobbed throughout the book and I ached when I finished it, but I’m so glad I read it. You’ll hug your family so tightly when you’re done they’ll wonder what’s gotten into you. It’s this magnificent book that you’ll never, ever forget that’s to blame.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
I can’t get this book out of my mind. I’d seen it mentioned in several circles, and thought I might get to it eventually. A few months ago an acquaintance of mine with a decent Twitter following tweeted something stupid -something better said among friends at a bar than sent to the masses. Like an accident you can’t take your eyes from, I watched as this decent guy was torn apart on social media, with calls for his firing and a skit making fun of him on national television. It took watching this public shaming towards someone I knew to compel me to pick up this book. Ronson tells the stories of several people who found their lives dramatically changed by angry mobs on social media. Their transgressions varied from boneheaded acts and not thinking before you tweet, to liars and a philanderer. The reactions to these people on social media is eye-opening and will make anyone who spends any time on social networks think about their part in building people up and tearing them down. It’s a fascinating look at a part of our culture that didn’t exist 10 years ago, and Ronson writes the story well, with empathy, humor and introspection. I highly recommend it to anyone who spends any part of their life on social media.
There were moments when I was reading this book when I could feel my pulse quicken and my hands clench. Tobar does an amazing job retelling the story of the 33 men buried alive for in a Chilean mine for 69 days. The story could not have been an easy one to tell. How did these 33 men resist the urge to share and profit from their story via other outlets? How do you bring 33 different men, with vastly different personalities and from very different families, to life in just 336 pages? And how do you make a story from which we all know the ending so compelling that this reader found herself furiously flipping through to see if everyone comes out okay? I don’t know, but Tobar does it, and does it very, very well.
What was the best non-fiction book you read this year, and why did you enjoy it?
Looking for more book recommendations? Look no further:
- Our Favorite Kids and YA Books of 2015
- 2015 Reading Update: January – March
- 2015 Reading Update: April – June
- 2015 Reading Update: July -September
Find all kinds of bookish inspiration on my Pinterest Good Reads Board too!